Subaru Impreza VS Audi A1
- Sturdy road feel
- Comfortable, chunky interior
- Full safety package
- Could do with more power
- A bit thirsty
- Needlessly complicated interior
- Great design
- Interior roominess
- Some interesting styling touches
- Could be more fun to drive
- Engines unknown for Australia
- Expect a price rise
There’s a lot to admire about Subaru.
For one, the brand is hell-bent on committing to all-wheel drive across its range where its major competitors benefit from selling (often cheaper to manufacture) front-drive cars, plus its current safety push is admirably reminiscent of Volvo’s efforts in the field.
Subaru’s stalwart hatch and sedan, the Impreza, can’t afford to let up, though. In a world where some of Japan’s most beloved nameplates are losing ground to SUVs in a big way, can the fifth-generation Impreza still hold its own in 2019?
We’ve spent a week in the top-spec 2.0i-S hatch to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
We first published this story on 21 November 2018, but the Audi A1 2019 model has still not launched in Australia.
The good news is that the Audi A1 2020 model is due to launch in Australia in October 2019. At the time we’re publishing this update, the company still hasn’t confirmed its plan for the new-generation A1 here.
Stay tuned for our detailed review coverage and all the pricing and specifications information you need to know.
As originally published, 21 November 2018:
Like a scrawny kid that reappeared after the school summer holidays with stubble, a deeper voice and newly bulging biceps, the second-generation Audi A1 isn’t how you remember it.
Sure, it’s still based on the same underpinnings as a Volkswagen Polo, but it has been designed to appeal to a different market to that car, and also to its predecessor.
This time around, almost 10 years after the original Audi A1 launched, it’s no longer a cute little city car - instead, it’s a compact muscle man, a far more angular and menacing looking little tyke. Still city-sized, but with a far more aggressive stance than the car it replaces.
But is it any good? I travelled to Spain as a guest of Audi Australia to find out.
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Impreza 2.0i-S is packed with safety and luxury features and offers fantastic value by flying under the asking price for most equivalent high-spec competitors.
Because it has been built for a world where SUVs dominate, it’s a better commuter car than ever before, just don’t expect it to have that wild rally spark from days past…
Is there a place for the humble hatch in a world of small SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The new-generation Audi A1 has gone a long way to appeal to a whole new market of customers, and while it may look more fun than a Mini Cooper to some, it isn’t as fun to drive.
That said, there is no doubt that it will lure younger shoppers in - provided it is priced and specified competitively.
Are you a fan of the new Audi A1? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
When the fifth-generation Impreza launched three years ago, it was the first car in Subaru’s range to debut a styling language which it calls ‘Dynamic x Solid’ and, well, there isn’t much arguing with that description (depending on how you define “dynamic”...)
The Impreza owns Subaru’s signature chunky styling with plenty of hard lines and angles, and squared-off light fittings with bumpers which give it a wide stance.
On the ‘dynamic’ side of things, there are delicate light fittings, a gently executed grille and swoopy sculpting down the sides which help to class the usually tough hatch up a little. Apart from the giant alloys, the only thing setting the 2.0i-S apart from the rest of the range are the LED light fittings and chrome garnish bits strewn about.
The look isn’t as controversial as the Civic’s angular assault, nor perhaps as forward-thinking as the swoopy curves of the incoming Mazda3. To many, the more conservative style of the Impreza will be exactly what they’re looking for.
Inside is plush, if a little SUV-like. If you’ve driven any of Subaru’s recent range you’ll know how familiar all the interior fittings are, for better or worse. Everything is nicely finished, with high-quality soft-touch plastics and tasteful matte or chrome highlights. It’s all very chunky and on-brand.
I’m a particular fan of the super-satisfying bumper-car steering wheel. It’s cladded in nice leather, although I’d argue there are a few too many buttons on it (15 plus two toggles…).
The media screen is a fantastic bit of hardware. It’s fast, has a fantastic resolution and syncs with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fairly easily. The way it protrudes from the dash also makes it easy to use for the driver and front passenger. While the gloss finish is a posh look, it’s a nightmare to keep clean.
Also, there’s a second screen embedded atop the dash. Why? It needlessly overcomplicates an otherwise slick interior. Yes, it cycles through status readouts for the car, but that could easily have been integrated into either the dashboard’s multifunction display or the big media screen.
The Impreza’s seats are best here in the 2.0i-S, as the leather has a decent thickness and the seats offer a bit more support than cloth-clad versions in lesser models. Subaru has come a long way in that department compared to earlier-generation cars.
It’s hard to put into words just what a departure this new-generation version of the Audi A1 is compared to its predecessor.
It’s keener, more athletic, more energetic. The new physique is so aggressive it’s bound to agitate the compact luxury segment. It could even agitate some Audi owners, because it’s arguably more stylish than many of the models above it.
The company is at pains to point out that a lot of styling elements for this new model were borne of the iconic and gorgeously sharp Ur-quattro and Sport quattro models of the 1980s. I can see that - just take a look at some of the form language on show here - you could forget you’re staring at a five-door hatchback based on a compact VW.
There are angular headlights with LED daytime running lights, a big grille with three little slats above it (looks similar to the Hyundai Kona, right?), and the body has a less rounded, more edgy look to it. Tucked under the (yummy, RS-inspired) squared-off guards are wheels ranging from 15- to 18-inches in size, and at the back there’s a set of LED tail-lights, which can perform a sort-of theatrical illumination sequence at start up and shut down.
There are going to be 10 exterior colours on offer, an the roof can be had in two dark finishes, which are said to pull the roofline down and make it look flatter than it really is.
With such sharpness on show, it’s obviously a bit more masculine than, say, a Mini Cooper or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it arguably looks even sportier than those cars. There’ll be S line packages on higher-grade models sold in Australia, so expect no shortage of gills and fins and black vented sections when the car launches locally.
On that topic, Audi says it wanted to achieve “the sportiest interior in the compact class”, and to my eye, the brand has nailed it. We all know that some sports people offer admirable competitiveness and eye-catching form, but has it got interior smarts, too?
The Impreza’s interior offers up plenty of space courtesy of its wide dimensions. You’ll never be lacking for room in the front seats, with ample leg and headroom despite the sunroof. There’s also plenty of space between you and your passenger and plush leather surfaces for your elbows on both doorcards and the wide centre console box.
Deep bottle holders also feature in the doors, and there’s a decently-sized trench in front of the gearknob which hosts two USB ports. The cabin features two more USB ports in the console box and two 12-volt outputs, so there’s no shortage of power outlets for you and your passengers.
The rear seat offers excellent amounts of room. Behind my own driving position (I’m 182cm tall), there’s plenty of airspace for my knees, plus the seats and doors are finished in plush matching leather trim, and there’s a drop-down armrest. On the downside, the back seat lacks amenities of any kind. There are no adjustable vents or power outlets in the back of the centre console box, and the centre seat has limited legroom thanks to the presence of a tall transmission tunnel – a necessary downside of all-wheel drive.
Headroom is also brought down by the presence of a sunroof in the back seat.
Boot space comes in at 345-litres for the hatch, spanning to 795L with the rear seats down. This just pips the Honda Civic RS hatch (330L), Corolla ZR (333L) but is easily bested by the Hyundai i30 (395L) and massive Kia Cerato (428L).
There is a space-saver spare underneath the boot floor.
This is a car aimed at a digital-savvy customer and, as such, every version of the A1 comes with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, plus a multi-function steering wheel. There’s a further step beyond that - Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ sees additional abilities for the driver to make use of.
A few different sizes/types of Audi’s MMI system are to be offered globally, including a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring are standard, and thankfully it looks as though there won’t be any model with a rotary dial controller rather than a touchscreen (as there is in the Audi A4). It’s not clear what we’ll get in Australia yet.
Of course there’ll also be Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, not to mention two USB ports and available wireless phone charging (Qi inductive charging - expected to be offered on higher-grade models). The MMI system also has DAB radio, and some models will be sold with a Bang & Olufsen sound system made up of 11 speakers.
The sat nav GPS system offers a 3D urban display, and there’s the ability to download up to four map updates per year using the ‘Audi connect’ sim-based connectivity. That system can predict traffic jams and suggest alternatives based on cloud-stored, real-time information.
More important than all the tech, though, could be the interior styling - with a fish-scale/crocodile-skin finish running the width of the dash, plus bold colour-matched plastics up front in the cabin, including around the instrument binnacle, the lower dash and even inside the angular door-handle housings. This isn’t mirrored in the back seat, sadly, with simple finishes reflecting a cost-cutting effort.
In fact, there’s a bit of that going on. The door trims are hard plastic, where the dashboard gets a soft texture. Call me odd, but I’d prefer a soft patch on the doors than the dash, because I don’t often rest my elbow up on top of the dashboard, personally.
And one other annoyance - the front seats have height adjustment, but they don’t get low enough - so if you’re taller than average you might find it a little high-chairish.
There are decent storage smarts, though, with cup holders up front, and an additional large cubby in front of the gear selector. Plus there are big door pockets with bottle holders in all four doors (but they aren’t lined, like in some other VW Group products) and there’s a set of map pockets in the back, but there are no cupholders back there, nor is there a central arm-rest. In fact, it feels pretty sparse in the back.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, as well as three top-tether points.
In terms of space for adults, it’s considerably more roomy than the previous version, with decent knee and headroom for people my size (182cm), but fitting three adults across would be a tough ask. It’s a compact car, after all.
The new model sees the boot capacity increase notably: luggage space is now rated at 335 litres, some 65L more than its predecessor. That figure increases to 1090L with the rear seats folded down. All Audi A1 models sold in Australia will come with a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, too.
Price and features
I miss the days when Subaru’s variant names made more sense as you worked your way from GX up to WRX in a sensible order.
We’re in a different time now, though, and just like most other Japanese brands, the Impreza has a focus on luxury and spec items over sportiness. So much so that the WRX isn’t even an Impreza any more... But I digress. What’s actually important is the 2.0i-S hatch is the most expensive Impreza you can buy at $29,740 before on-roads.
This bodes well for Subaru, because it’s relatively well equipped and cheaper than the top-spec cars from its traditional Japanese opponents.
Suddenly the Subaru’s $29,740 starts to look pretty good. Especially since it’s the only car on the list with all-wheel drive.
What else is in the box? The 2.0i-S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and power-folding wing-mirrors, a sunroof, full LED (and steering-responsive) front lighting, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, and heated front seats with eight-way power adjust on the driver’s side.
Still with me? Okay, on the muiltimedia front there’s a massive, bright 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android auto, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and built-in nav, which is mated to a six-speaker audio system.
Missing is a branded premium audio system and a digital dash, which are available in some competitors. A power-adjustable passenger seat would be nice, but other than that there’s not much missing from the 2.0i-S’ arsenal.
To boot, it gets Subaru’s impressive full safety suite, but more on that in the safety section later in this review.
Expect the entry point to the range to be close to $30,000 (up from the auto base model of the current generation, which lists at $28,990 plus on-road costs, although the new model will be more comprehensively kitted out than before), while the highest grade version at launch will likely cost more than $40,000.
Customers can expect a fairly strong standard equipment offer, but there’s nothing confirmed as yet.
What we can tell you is that the brand will follow the new naming strategy for the model range, meaning we could see the base model demarcated as the 30 TFSI, a mid-grade 35 TFSI and a high-spec 40 TFSI, the latter of which is expected to brandish the S line styling package as standard.
An educated guess would suggest push-button start and keyless entry across the lineup, alloy wheels on all grades (17-inch expected on low grades, 18s on the range-topping model), and an array of paint colours and interior trim packs.
Stay tuned for a full, detailed pricing and spec breakdown closer to the car’s launch in around April 2019.
Engine & trans
Here’s one of the main downsides for the Subaru. Competitors are now mostly running improved low-capacity turbocharged engines, but Subaru has overhauled – and so doubled-down on – its non-turbo 2.0-litre four cylinder ‘boxer’ engine.
This engine produces an average-looking 115kW/196Nm. Sure enough, under heavier acceleration, it feels lacking, especially considering this Impreza’s almost 1400kg kerb weight.
Peak torque doesn’t arrive till 4000rpm, so you’re left waiting a little while for it to get there for overtaking. A turbocharger could easily rectify the situation.
On the upside, the changes to this engine mean the annoying six-month service intervals have been pushed out to a year and it happily drinks 91RON unleaded.
The Impreza is available with just one transmission – a continuously variable automatic. There’s no manual.
It’s difficult to say what we’ll get in Australia, because the engines fitted to the European versions we tested in Spain mightn’t be wholly representative of our offer.
That’s because all models sold in Europe fall under the strictest emissions legislation, meaning each is fitted with a petrol particulate filter. Australian cars won’t get those powertrains, because our fuel has too much sulphur in it, and the petrol particulate filters aren’t able to digest it. So, we could get older, lower-tech engines, and can theoretically expect higher-than-European-models fuel consumption.
All that said, the way the range is structured in Europe suggests we will see a line-up along these lines:
It’s expected the base model version in the A1 line-up (30 TFSI) will be sold with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 85kW/200Nm. It will have a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. We drove this engine at launch, but it was paired to a six-speed manual, and we won’t be getting that.
Next up the range is the 35 TFSI 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder with 110kW/250Nm, which is said to offer decent performance - both in terms of acceleration speed (0-100km/h will take less than 8.0 seconds) and fuel use, because it can shut down two cylinders under light loads. Again, it’ll come with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
There’ll also be a turbo four-cylinder engine that’ll live up to the angry look of the new A1, with 147kW/320Nm (the 40 TFSI). This is essentially the Audi version of the Polo GTI, and it will have a standard-fit six-speed dual-clutch auto, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 6.5sec.
Will there be a second-generation S1? I wouldn’t bet my house on it. All indications we’ve had from Audi suggest there will be no second-generation hot-hatch version, as the first one was expensive to develop and didn’t sell well. That means there’s very slim chance of any model in the A1 line being sold with the brand’s hallowed quattro (all-wheel drive) system.
The 2.0i-S has a claimed/combined fuel usage number of 7.2L/100km. Over my week of testing in mainly urban scenarios, I landed on 9.1L/100km which is bang on Subaru’s ‘urban’ estimate.
It’s at least a litre more than I usually expect out of lower-capacity turbo engines in the competition.
If you really want to save on petrol, the Prius-derived tech in the Corolla ZR is has a claimed usage number of 4.2L/100km.
Subaru’s raft of improvements to this engine allow you to fill its 50L tank with base-grade 91RON unleaded.
Fuel consumption is said to be as low as 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder 30 TFSI model, but there are no details on the fuel consumption of the 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI versions as yet.
The Impreza feels solid on the road. Part of this is down to the hefty kerb weight, and a great deal of it is down to the all-wheel drive system.
You have a sense of security behind the wheel that’s not quite there in many competitors. The flipside to this is the Impreza seems to have lost a lot of its, well, character.
I’ll explain. Older versions of this car were not as well built or as slick to drive, but they had a bit of a wild streak for those who wanted to push them, with just a little bit of the WRX’s character found in every variant. Now, though, this Impreza seems a bit sanitized.
If you’ve driven any of the rest of Subaru’s range, its easy to see how the Impreza has arrived at this point. Remember how I mentioned that it shares much of the switchgear of the SUV range? Well, it feels like an SUV to drive, too. It’s got that kind of weight to it, and the engine and transmission combination hardly lends it extra agility.
That might seem like harsh criticism, but I should be clear. For many people, the extra heft and SUV-like security which this Impreza brings will feel great, especially in a plush top-spec hatch like this.
It brings other benefits, too. The 2.0i-S is quiet. Despite the huge wheels, road noise (previously a sore spot for the brand) is surprisingly low and not much can be heard out of the engine and transmission below 4000rpm.
The Impreza might have lost its rally derived sporty soul, but for most buyers, it’s a far better commuter car than ever before.
The A1 comes across as a more convincing attempt at a compact luxury car than an outright fun car, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Over our time in the A1 in Spain, we drove the (predicted) 30 TFSI base model, with its charming and characterful three-cylinder engine, which seemed to fit the bill of being a bit more entertaining to drive than the model above it, the 35 TFSI.
The 1.0-litre had the typical rumble and vibration at lower speeds, and fell victim to turbo lag more than the bigger-capacity four-cylinder engine. But in some ways, that made it feel a little more engaging to drive.
The 1.5-litre was perfectly refined and nice to drive, with enough punch for the vast majority of people’s needs. Its steering was light and a bit lifeless, but the ride comfort (on 17s) was good.
The sportiest version of the mix was easily the 40 TFSI, with its punchy 2.0-litre engine offering zesty acceleration and decent refinement. The shifts were quick and crisp, though it wasn’t quite at the level of a ‘proper’ hot hatch in terms of dynamics. It was fitted with the performance package with bigger brake discs, adjustable dampers, a sound actuator and Audi’s ‘drive select' system (with auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual modes).
There was some torque-steer noticeable under hard acceleration, and because the platform isn’t set up for a more agile chassis (there’s MacPherson front suspension but all models come with a torsion beam rear suspension set-up), it wasn’t a point-to-point weapon. But it’s not really designed for that.
Even so, the steering of the 40 TFSI model was better when dynamic mode was selected, and in general it felt more involving than the rather remote, light tiller action in the other models. The dynamic mode in this car also adjusted the adaptive dampers to feel more tied-down, but - unlike some of my Australian colleagues - I didn’t find the ride to be too hard or harsh.
The sound actuator mightn’t be to all tastes, but I appreciated the wailing warble pumped through the speakers under hard throttle. Oh, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is really good, too.
The biggest complaint I had with the drive was the amount of noise in the cabin, which pulls the A1 back from pint-sized luxury car into the realm of regular city hatches. On coarse-chip road surfaces the tyre roar was annoyingly loud, and there was some wind noise at 110km/h from around the A-pillar area, too.
Apart from the base-model Impreza, which misses out on the ‘EyeSight’ dual-camera suite, the rest of the range is well equipped.
Included from 2.0i-L up is auto emergency braking (AEB) with brake light recognition, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), lead vehicle start alert (lets you know when the vehicle in front has moved off), and adaptive cruise control.
But wait. The 2.0i-S adds even more to the active suite, with blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) and AEB which works in reverse to stop you from having an embarrassing parking accident.
The 2.0i-S is also the only Impreza with active torque vectoring which monitors and controls the amount of power going to any given wheel to maximise traction.
This is one of the most comprehensive safety offerings in the segment at a price that's less than most of its top-spec competitors.
There’s a very strong chance the Audi A1 will achieve the maximum five-star crash test safety rating from Euro NCAP and ANCAP. It hasn’t been tested yet, but it has all the right gear to manage the feat.
Standard equipment includes ‘Audi pre sense front’, a radar-based auto-emergency-braking system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, which can also pre-tension the front seatbelts, wind up the windows and flash the hazard lights if it thinks impact is unavoidable.
There’s a standard lane-keep-assistance system (above 65km/h) and a speed limiter for the cruise control.
Other tech available includes adaptive cruise control (0-200km/h for auto models), and finally - after nearly nine years of not having one - all models will be sold with a standard-fit reverse camera in addition to parking sensors.
Some models will be offered with front parking sensors and side sensors, along with a semi-autonomous parking system that can perform parallel and perpendicular parking moves. Not a confident parker at all? Worried about nudging bumpers? The system can even exit a parallel spot for you.
It doesn’t appear that Audi will offer blind-spot monitoring, nor is there a rear cross-traffic alert system - but models fitted with radar cruise control will get front cross-traffic alert, which is super handy in tight city streets.
Subaru has recently brought its warranty offering up to the competitive standard of five years/unlimited kilometres. Much better than the previous lackluster three-year offering.
The brand’s capped-price-servicing program has also been updated to match the length of the warranty, with the Impreza costing a not-particularly-cheap average of $481.53 per year for five years.
The Impreza requires servicing once a year or every 12,500kms.
If nothing changes between the international launch drive and the local launch of the new Audi A1 in the second quarter of 2019, it will be covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is okay, but mainstream brands could offer more appeal to city-car customers - some offer up to seven years warranty...
Audi will offer a reasonably priced service pack that can be bundled into your finance. It will include required maintenance every 12 months/15,000km, and you can bank on it adding about $1500 to the purchase price for a three-year/45,000km plan.